Abel & Cole

We need to face facts. With the best of intentions, we’ve inadvertently been selling our customers a lemon.

Like many of you reading this today, at Abel & Cole we embraced compostable plastics as a viable, more sustainable alternative to plastic packaging. But recently, more and more scientific evidence has been published showing compostable plastics aren’t actually the sustainable solution we once hoped they were.

Recent research from University College London has shown compostable plastic can only break down under very specific conditions and, without the right equipment, behaves just like regular plastic. Experiments on compostable plastic household items – like newspaper and magazine wraps, fruit and vegetable films, and coffee pods – reveal some remain pretty much intact after two years of composting.

What’s more, as an entirely unregulated sector, the sheer variety of compostable plastics available makes it even harder for these to be processed effectively. As a result, compostable plastics are a growing contaminant in recycling and food waste collection systems, many of which – research has shown – are unable to process them.

But as an industry, are we being honest with ourselves about this disappointing situation? Given how motivated shoppers are to do good for the planet – with research showing people are 85% more likely to buy products with packaging marked ‘compostable’ or ‘biodegradable’ – you can understand why many want to cling on to the belief that compostable plastics are the most sustainable solution.

With no working technical solution to the automatic separation and sorting of compostable plastics, and with the global market of biodegradable plastics set to reach 2.62 million tonnes next year, organisations need to act now to review whether compostables are the right kind of packaging material for their products.

So, at Abel & Cole, we’re taking a stand and removing all compostable plastic from our core fruit & veg Boxes effective immediately, and are working hard with our suppliers to completely remove it from our range by the end of 2023. Until we have a reliable and efficient way of separating and processing compostable plastic in place across the UK, we all have to be honest with ourselves and ultimately stop the packaging from entering the system.

Today, we’re asking the rest of the industry to join the fight against compostable plastic pollution. We’re encouraging other decision makers in the food industry to act and be open about the packaging they use with their customers. If an organisation isn’t sure their compostable plastic packaging breaks down the way it should, it’s time to remove it altogether.

Shoppers choose to invest in organisations that are committed to protecting the environment, and it is our duty as an industry to act how our customers would expect us to: to continue the fight to find better ways to reduce our impact on the planet.